Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Progress on Democracy 4 speeding up

It must be hell being a ‘producer’ in the big budget triple-a games development system. The development of a video game proceeds at almost any conceivable rate other than linear. I’m sure for some games there is an immediate sprint of exciting new stuff…then a drought as bugs are fixed. In the case of Democracy 4, we have had a whole lot of under-the-hood re-coding with little to show for it visually, and now a sudden rush of cool stuff happening.

Of course a lot of this tracks from the point at which artwork and music and sfx start rolling in. I use contractors to develop music, sfx and art, so I don’t have the option of just hearing the odd new piece of music or peering over an artists shoulder to see how stuff is going. It can be hard to drill into people that “yup, you can send me new stuff EVERY DAY, its fine”. As a result, Democracy 4 seems to progress in sudden jumps and spurts when new stuff goes into the game.

When I talk to players of D3 about the new game, they are always focused on new options and content. What new policies will go in? what new events? what will they be able to do that they couldn’t do before. This is all vital stuff, and I’ve kept quiet and felt bad about discussing the games development for quite a while because we simply haven’t been working on that.

For ages, it feels like I’ve been tweaking the shape or size or color of buttons, the layout of dialogs, and jeff has been recoding the way everything gets rendered (especially text, allowing us to support Russian/Chinese when the game leaves early access rather than four years later…) This is all super-vital stuff, and i’m glad we have been giving it the attention that it definitely deserves, but its probably left an impression that D4 is a shiny re-skin rather than a proper sequel…which is not true.

I recently mentioned that we now have third party support (if people choose it), which is the first new feature. We have also discussed (and its on my personal todo list) adding support for nationalization and privatization to the game. This will make quite a difference, but we haven’t reeled off any of the new simulation data we will be adding to the game.

Today I added some new simulation values to the game: healthcare demand and Internet Speeds. These are both pretty cool. High tech means more healthcare options (operations & treatments) are possible, but also increase demand. Immigration and actual healthcare problems such as contagious diseases, alcoholism and obesity will also feed into demand. Balance this against private and public healthcare provision to work out if you have a hospital overcrowding crisis.

Internet speeds is a fun one because its a much-needed policy that allows us to make young people happy or unhappy depending on speed. I’ve also added an effect where it makes people more likely to be self employed, which is relevant to me, living in a tiny rural village where there are lots of people working from home. Internet speed is way more of an issue here politically than you would think.

Other stuff we added recently includes multinational tax avoidance (especially by tech firms, such as ones that rhyme with ‘moogle’ or ‘blapazon’), and a ‘diverted profits tax’ (also sometimes called a transfer-pricing tax) which helps to combat it. There are a LOT more to come, and yes, to avoid 99% of the replies…universal income will be one of them :D.

Because I have been a bit slack on blogging and am reducing my twitter usage, I should point out to anybody reading this that OH MY GOD, you can now get our awesome pharmaceutical cure-em-up ‘Big Pharma‘ on the Playstation, The XBox and on something called the Nintendo Switch. I think those are game ‘consoles’, which all sounds very young and hip to me. It sounds like a perfect Christmas gift to me. (but not for me thx, I’ve got a copy).

Democracy 4 – Multi Party Support

So I had a sudden mad rush of adrenaline this past weekend and decided I should code multi-party support into Democracy 4. This is something people have asked me for over a very long period, but I’ve always resisted it. I thought it would change the game into some horrible three-way negotiation and back-room dealing simulation rather than be focused on actual policies and theories which is what I am more interested in…

Actually I’ve always found it weird people WANT the game to be basically more like the corrupt, undemocratic bullshit that a lot of western multi-party politics has become. Surely in our heads what we want is a trial of ideas and philosophies where the best policies for the people win? nobody fantasizes about having to implement policies you hate because you need to haggle with some other party leader?

The sheer optimistic joy of coalition government

Anyway…eventually me and Jeff got chatting and decided that there WAS a way to include some elements of multi-party politics, without totally breaking the way the game works, and which could work within the existing framework of political capital and policy decisions. But first, I had to sort out the UI.

Democracy 3 has always had 2 parties, and because I never intended to change this, there were actual hard coded ‘pointers’ to the player and opposition parties everywhere in code. Essentially this just meant a lot of donkey-work going through code and changing this to an open ended list everywhere, and checking everything would save and load ok, and that we didn’t have any legacy stuff referring to ‘the opposition party’ in the code.

Then I needed to re-jig a lot of GUI code. There were basically three places where parties get referenced, the party screen (showing members/activists over time), the fundraising screen (this was part of the D3 electioneering DLC but now integrated into the game) and the election results screen.

As I write this, I’m done changing all the GUI apart from the post-election breakdown of each voter group and how they voted (it needs different colors for each opposition group too). So right now, the post-election screen in a 3-party game looks like this: (work in progress BTW)

shiny new user interface (work in progress)

I’m thinking (for now) that a 3 party limit makes most sense. To explain that, I need to delve into the two areas that are needed to make this work within the simulation: Joining parties, and coalitions.

In the current game (Democracy 3) party joining is simple. Players build up over time a sympathy to a party if they are super happy (player) or super unhappy (opposition) eventually joining that party. A weakening of sympathy for a party over time results in the player leaving. I decided to keep this system, but to position the new 2nd opposition party as a ‘centrist’ party between the player and the opposition. In other words, if a value of 100% happiness means joining the players party, and 0% means joining the opposition, 37.5% means joining the new centrist opposition. Why 37.5%? because we still see 50% happiness as being the point where you will vote for the player (if you vote…)

Let me explain the term centrist. I’m not referring to politically centrist at all. In fact the game makes no explicit assumption about the political position of either opposition party. Basically the ‘opposition’ are the party who absolutely oppose your party position on everything, and the ‘centrist’ party (the new 3rd party) are midway between you and the opposition. In theory, your party could be centrist, the opposition right wing, and the new opposition mildly left wing. The key point here is that the new opposition is *closer* to your position than the old opposition is.

random image of yang for no reason

So…I’ve done all the code for this and modeled correctly voters joining and leaving all 3 parties over time. So thats in the game and working (hurrah!). The next thing I need to do is to code in the effects of a coalition.

If your party gets >50% of the votes in an election (ignoring absent voters) then you win just as before. If you do NOT get that, but you ARE the largest party…then you go into a coalition in government with you sharing power with one of the other parties. At first sight, this makes no difference to how the game is played…

…but actually it reduces your political capital each turn dramatically. In other words…you really cant get much done. HOWEVER, you will be regularly offered deals by your coalition partner, where they basically say ‘implement/cancel/change THIS policy, and we will give you X political capital’. Obviously we will engineer code that will always make that an *interesting* decision for you to make. In other words, to reference my own countries recent coalition government, this is ‘give us a referendum on political reform and we will stop blocking your economic policy’. Obviously in real politics this happens all the time (in >2 party systems).

yet another group of happy politicians in a coalition! compromise feel so great!

Hopefully this strikes an interesting and acceptable compromise between having all the machinations of multi-party government, while still keeping the game playable and understandable to people who enjoy Democracy 3. I do intend to make this totally optional as a parameter when you start a new game, so you could (for example) play the USA as a true 3 party system, or Germany as a 2 party system, whatever appeals to you.

This is the first big ‘gameplay’ change that makes Democracy 4 different to democracy 3. So far its been tech changes (multi-language text rendering and vector graphics) and UI changes (OMG it looks so much nicer). We also have a lot of content changes planned (policies,events etc). More on that over time…

Democracy 4 GUI update

We are still working away on Democracy 4…although I have not blogged about it much. This is partly because Jeff is doing a lot of ‘under-the-hood’ debugging and GUI support stuff, so there has not been that much to show for it yet. Unlike many sequels we are doing this GUI first and Mechanics / Content second, so for a while, it will look like a beautifully re-skinned democracy 3, until we start adding all the new events and policies etc.

Anyway… I sometimes forget how much slicker and cleaner the new UI is because I stare at it a lot, but here is a side by side comparison of the electioneering ‘perceptions screen’ for both games:

(BTW we likely will not use those same Democracy 3 icons for those 3 things, they are placeholder).

Re-sized screenshots do not do the GUI justice really, because its vector based and super-super-crisp. I do think that having a proper UI style guide, and vector graphics is going to make the new version feel SO much nicer to use. The previous game is from 2013 and starting to look like it…

There will be a lot more updates to come once we start putting in the new events. We just ordered all of the event graphics (and there are 95 of them this time, for even more actual events) and I’m looking forward to blogging about the new stuff we are adding.

Oh and in case you didn’t realize from the above screenshot, ALL of the content from Social Engineering, Extremism, Clones & Drones and Electioneering will ship in Democracy 4 as standard.

Democracy 4 Update

YES! We are working hard on this, although its been mostly under-the-hood tech and background stuff so I haven’t been updating people much on progress because there has not been *that much* we wanted to show yet, but that is going to be changing a lot real soon…

So, for those in the dark about this, Democracy 4 is the upcoming sequel to Democracy 3 (what a shock!) which is positech’s best selling game so far. Its a politics strategy game where you play the role of President/Prime Minister of a real world country and have to keep the economy in decent shape while staying popular enough to be re-elected, AND presumably helping change the country for the better (in your opinion :D).

For people who have never played the original games, the user-interface is unusual because its basically just a complex connecting web of icons. here is a screenshot from the main screen in Democracy 3:

And here is the current (work-in-progress) equivalent for Democracy 4:

Obviously the general style, fonts and so-on have all changed, but also we have moved the voter groups from the middle to the left. This gives us some interesting options, because this is now a list that can be (at the players discretion perhaps) sorted by popularity, or by membership, or any other metric. Or sorted alphabetically even, none of which were options in the old UI.

its really hard to see in a static screenshot, but the big under-the-hood changes for D4 are that its unicode from the very start (hello Russian and Chinese!), and also most of the UI is being done with vector-art rendering, meaning everything is pixel perfect regardless of screen resolution or zooming/scaling. For a game that is mostly UI, this makes a BIG difference. basically no more blurry UI elements anywhere :D. Its also cross platform from the start.

So far we are still at the ‘getting the core engine working right’ stage along with the ‘commission loads of art’ stage, so although a lot has been done, there is not a LOT that we want to show you in terms of new events, policies or situations yet. However, that will be coming soon. We already have a bunch of new ministers and voters…

Once we are putting in new simulation content, I’ll start doing regular blogs (probably video ones too) that detail the progress made on the game. I’d love to be able to tell you an exact date for us to go early-alpha (likely direct sales), Early-Access beta and final release, but I just cant be sure about those dates just yet. Obviously I’m well aware that 2020 is a US election year and we want to be coming out before the election :D Stay tuned for more updates etc, you can follow me on twitter, or join our mailing list (see sidebar) if you don’t want to miss anything.

The political compass in Democracy 4

I’m writing some Democracy 4 code today, and looking at how we display the in-game political compass. This is a graph that shows you how your political position has changed over the course of the current game.

This was in Democracy 3, and definitely back in for D4. This time around I’m stretching it to fill an entire window, as there is no magical reason why both axes have to be the same. For those unfamiliar with the concept of the political compass, it maps a political party or individual or government on 2 axes. The first axes is left-> right (communism to capitalism, or sometimes described as socialism to capitalism) and the other is up-down which is conservative to liberal.

THESE TERMS CAUSE ABSOLUTE CONFUSION EVERYWHERE.

Allow me to expands on this: There are basically TWO axes of politics, not one. In many places, people get this confused and assume liberal == socialism and conservative == capitalism. This is WRONG. There may be countries, societies, communities, and parties that make very strong associations between these two, but other positions very much exist around the world. The biggest confusion is the way US commentators use ‘liberal’ when they mean socialist, mostly because the mcarthyesque history of the US has made socialist an insult in many peoples minds (especially middle aged and older).

For example, its perfectly possible to be a liberal capitalist. I know this because I consider myself to be in that quadrant myself. I am a supporter of a (regulated) free market, a believer in entrepreneurship, and generally a supporter of lower taxes and extremely free trade… NONE of which has anything to do with my positions on..(for example)… same-sex marriage, legalizing cannabis, free-speech, equal pay or religion. Its also perfectly possible to be entirely in the opposite quadrant where you are both conservative and socialist. In fact, a LOT of 1970s British politics was in that quadrant, with very socialist (extremely high marginal taxes, opposition to free trade, very high levels of nationalization) policies mixing freely with the racist, sexist, and deeply conservative attitudes to religion, drugs, same-sex relationships etc that we would now associate with the american right. I grew up in a very strongly pro-union labour-voting community. It was not a liberal paradise.

To put this another way, you can take a far left 1970s british socialist / communist and persuade them to embrace legalizing drugs, same-sex relationships, gender-equality and LGBT issues…and that moves them on one axis but not the other.

Anyway…

The game automatically analyzes every decision you make and plots your government position each turn on the political compass automatically, which is kinda cool to watch. For Democracy 4, I thought it might be interesting to have that compass pre-loaded with the agreed (ha!) positions of a number of historical figures. For example, maybe plot President Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Obama and from the UK Thatcher, Blair and David Cameron. Maybe Angela Merkel should be on there? Maybe Trudeau and Trump?

I think this would be cool because it would be funny to to find yourself thinking ‘hmmm I may have gone a bit right wing economically here? and then realize you just swept past Reagan :D.

Of course the HUGE problem here is going to be coming up with locations for these people that don’t get me stoned to death by angry steam forum people. Lets be clear…everyone will; hate me for making this game at all…its pretty much locked-in as being the most divisive game ever made already. I just don’t want to DELIBERATELY annoy people, so I’ll probably do some research, plot some of those figures, then ask for feedback during Early Access :D

Its very tough because to people in the US, Bernie sanders is hugely left wing, but in Europe, I’d say maybe not so much… And to left-wingers in the UK, David Cameron was horribly right wing, but by US standards he was probably a member of the Democratic party. And the problem is…the STRONGER your political views (regardless of axes), the more you get outraged and want to push everyone who disagrees with you to the far extremes of the other side.

I know communities online where people argue that UK labour party deputy-leader tom watson is a ‘dangerously right wing blairite traitor’, despite being frankly hugely left wing by US standards. I’ve seen political compasses that put Hilary Clinton just slightly to the left of Reagan…

Fun times ahead…